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Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Financial Cost to Berkeley California For Their Anti-Military Stance

[Update] 4/3/08- Another business leaves Berkeley.

Berkeley California has been the subject of news for months since the City Council of Berkeley issued a resolution calling the Marines "uninvited and unwelcome intruders." They later rescinded that resolution, but what has it cost them?
It started with a resolution (opens in PDF) passed on January 29, 2008, in which a statement was made that said, "Direct the City Manager to send letters to the Marine Corps Recruiting Station at 64 Shattuck Avenue and to General James T. Conway, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, advising them that the Marine recruiting office is not welcome in our city, and if recruiters choose to stay, they do so as uninvited and unwelcome intruders."

That statement kicked off a firestorm of protest against Berkeley with politicians demanding that federal funding be stripped from Berkeley, business owners declaring they would no longer do business in Berkeley and pro-troop organizations charging into the town of Berkeley to show support of the Marines of Berkeley.

With members of Code Pink and other anti-military organizations facing off against pro-troop organizations like Move America Forward, joined with local members of the Berkeley community, right outside of the City Council chambers for the next scheduled meeting, the council rescinded that resolution.

They did not apologize to the Marines of Berkeley though.

Code Pink holds protests at the Marine recruitment center on a weekly basis and counter protests are also held to support the Marines of Berkeley.

(Eagles Up in downtown Berkeley on March 22, 2008- Photo courtesy of Move America Forward)

Which brings us to the cost to the city of Berkeley.

In the last six weeks alone, the city of Berkeley has spent over $210,000 in police overtime to keep peace during these protests and counter protests, according to police.

The Berkeley police department has 186 officers on duty and in a statement from police spokeswoman Sgt. Mary Kusmiss, they usually spend between $2,500 and $3,500 per week on overtime during a normal week.

She further states that from Feb. 12 to March 22, that rose to $210,814.13 and that the city spent approximately $93,000 Feb. 12 during an all-day protest at Old City Hall that drew about 2,000 anti-war and military supporters.

Since then, anti-military groups like Code Pink and the World Can't Wait have continued to hold weekly protests which have required anywhere from three to eighty officers to work overtime, saying that the anti-military groups mentioned above have become "increasingly raucous."

Last Monday, March 24, 2008, they say that the police had to arrest another four CodePink protesters during a rally.

Those arrested were Benjamin, 55, of San Francisco; Suzanne Joi, 57, of Berkeley; Pamela Bennett, 45, of San Francisco; and Mari T. Blome, 52, of El Cerrito.

"We feel it's important to have some measure of presence at any type of protest or demonstration," Kusmiss said, adding that the department is worried about the "comingling" of CodePink with the groups the World Can't Wait and the ANSWER Coalition, which police say, unlike CodePink, chain themselves to buildings and purposely antagonize police officers.

Code Pink vows to continue their protests every week until the Marine recruitment center leaves town, as stated by the co-founder of Code Pink, Medea Benjamin, who says, "If people are concerned they should put pressure on the (recruiting center) landlord to break the lease. The recruiters are the ones who should have never come in to Berkeley. If whomever in the city wants to stop the protests, they should encourage the recruiters to leave. Democracy comes at a price."

Benjamin is correct about the price and it does not stop with the financial strain on the city of Berkeley for police over time.

(Eagles Up and military supporters gather in downtown Berkeley to support the Marines- March 22, 2008- Photo courtesy of Move America Forward)

The Lafayette War Veterans Golf Committee has moved their third annual fundraising golf tournament outside of the Berkeley. Their stated reason is " due to the cities hostile attitude toward the Marine Corps."

They have raised over $60,000 the last two years to help people who have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan and are being treated at the Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center at the Veterans Administration hospital in Palo Alto.

Ted Garrett, CEO of the Berkeley Chamber of Commerce said they had received at least 140 emails from people saying they would not do business with Berkeley. That was in early February, the number has risen since then.

According to Garrett, "Most are threatening to never set foot in Berkeley and never have anything to do with businesses in Berkeley. I know of at least one instance now where an innkeeper has reported that one visitor has canceled their reservation because of the council's actions."

On February 4, 2008, the Government Affairs committee had a meeting where they discussed plans to withhold business license taxes to protest the resolutions' effects on their business.

That would require the approval of the chamber's executive committee or board of directors and Carolyn Henry Golphin, the immediate past chair of the chamber's board, says that should always be a last resort option, the further states, "We have to do what we have to do. We do need to make a stand together if that's what we all agree on."

By the end of February, Garrett says the number of emails, faxes and letters had reached over 300 and reports were coming out about hotels, restaurants and theaters, all saying they were seeing cancellations with hostility from opponents of military branch cited.

Some businesses reported a decline of 10 to 15 percent and those communications Garrett spoke of were from people outlining their plans to boycott the city.

The shops downtown are suffering because people are avoiding the downtown area because "the weekly anti-war protests have become increasingly volatile."

Nearly a month after the Berkeley City Council refused to apologize to the U.S. Marine Corps for calling them "uninvited and unwelcome intruders," Berkeley businesses are feeling the backlash from people who do not want to spend their money in the city.

The last counter protest held in Berkeley, on March 22, 2008, to show support for the troops, which Move America Forward joined Eagles up, who consists of mostly military veterans that wanted to show their support for the troops, and thundered into the town of Berkeley with 400 motorcycles, showed that even those going to Berkeley refused to spend money in Berkeley and chose to use hotels outside of the town.

(Eagles Up rolls into the town of Berkeley to show support for the Marines- Photo Courtesy of Melanie Morgan, chairman of Move America Forward)

According to the group they spent spent $25,000 to $30,000 in neighboring cities to penalize Berkeley financially for its recent anti-military stance..

The rally organizer Doug Lyvere, a retired Marine sergeant major and the West Region coordinator of Eagles Up, said, "If Berkeley does not want the military in town, then veterans should not be spending any money there."

He goes on to say they did spend money at one Berkeley business, a pizza joint, because that establishment supports the military.

One notable aspect of that rally, which had 400 veterans but anywhere from 600- 800 total participants, is that city officials and police say there was not one arrest made.

The Chamber of Commerce's, Garrett made a statement for that report also, saying, "When businesses can't even open their doors, there is a loss of business here in Berkeley."

Garrett says the Chamber officials have met with the Mayor, who is an active supporter of Code Pink, and attends their rallies wearing a pink hat (see third photo down) and has heard nothing to indicate that the council intends to apologize to the Marines, saying, "They aren't looking like they are going to budge, but that doesn't stop us from working diligently to try and come up with a solution that is going to protect our businesses."

Councilmembers Kriss Worthington, Laurie Capitelli, Betty Olds and Gordon Wozniak did vote on a motion to send a formal apology to the Marines. That motion was put forth by City Councilmember Kriss Worthington, when, after the motion was defeated, said, "When our council adopts such outrageous language, we owe an apology for using that language. More importantly than words, I think we need to show some genuine, positive, practical support for our veterans."

The businesses of Berkeley are laying the blame directly at the feet of the city council as another member of the Chamber of Commerce's board, Mark McLeod, who is also the president of the Downtown Berkeley Association says he believes the Berkeley City Council should have considered the implications of its actions before voting for the resolutions.

McLeod stated, "The council can't operate as an isolated unit-the university, council and chamber have to realize they're all members of a large, complex community and have to act with a realization of the effect of their actions on all members of the community."

While the council refuses to issue a formal apology to the Marines, as well as provides free parking permits and encouragement to members of code pink, while other people have to pay for their parking permits, pro-troop organizations continue to plan events to counter the protests at the recruitment center in Berkeley California.

Last but not least, Move America Forward's attorney has drafted a letter the US Attorney's office to ask them to investigate Berkeley City Council's encouragement to anti-military groups to "impede" the work of Marine recruiters to determine if it constitutes a breach of law.

Chairman of Move America Forward, Melanie Morgan says, "We have been fighting them all the way and this is simply the next step," she then concludes with, "Berkeley has got to realize that we’re not going away."

The financial cost to Berkeley for the council's actions has been high and as of now, there seems to be no end in sight.